In 1988 Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky published a book called, “Manufacturing Consent.” The authors claimed the mass media carried out a “system-supporting” propaganda campaign against their readers and viewers. The authors highlighted how the media designated “worthy” victims and “unworthy” victims. Victims of “enemy states” were worthy of sympathetic coverage to generate support against specific regimes, but those victimized by the United States were “unworthy” of media coverage and indignation.
But this notion of “worthy” and “unworthy” victims existed internally throughout the United States for centuries because of the country’s racial problems. And in this millennium these old problems continue to play out, in their own way, when a White police officer shoots and kills an unarmed Black male.
In Ferguson, Mo., this dynamic played out with police officer Darren Wilson and the deceased, Michael Brown, competing for “worthy” victim status due to conflicting narratives of the police shooting. Brown’s side said he did nothing wrong, had his hands up, and said “Don’t shoot.” Wilson said Brown attacked him and the two fought over Wilson’s handgun. At first Wilson’s “fear for life” defense was scrutinized. Wilson was the same height as Brown, substantially older, and Wilson was an experienced police officer. Wilson’s “fear” sounded like a poor excuse. At this point Brown was slightly in the lead for “worthy” victim status until the media released footage of Brown committing a strong-arm robbery inside a convenience store.
The footage had nothing to do with Brown’s fatal confrontation with the police officer, but it brings in Herman’s and Chomsky’s theory of media manufacturing. Here, it wasn’t consent being manufactured, it was reasonable doubt.
Recently, in East Pittsburgh, there was another fatal police shooting of an unarmed Black teenage boy, Antwon Rose II. This teenager was shot three times in the back after he fled from a vehicle the police pulled over. (The vehicle matched descriptions of a car involved in an exchange of gunfire that left a person wounded, and the vehicle in question had gunshot damage to its back window.) Unlike the Michael Brown shooting, this one was recorded on video. The footage was similar to the 2015 shooting of Walter Scott in South Carolina.
Scott was shot in the back while he ran away from a police officer. (Scott ran because he owed child support and didn’t want to go to jail.) But Scott was given “worthy” victim status because the “fear for life” defense was eliminated, Scott posed no threat to the officer. There was nothing the media could manufacture to justify the shooting. That police officer was fired from the police force and charged with murder.
The East Pittsburgh police officer, Michael Rosfeld, should be deemed “unworthy” for the “fear for life” defense and also charged with murder. The lawyer for the family of the victim said, “It’s obvious (the teenager) did not present a danger to law enforcement officers or to the public. To shoot him several times in the back—there can be no justification for that kind of action.”
But the day after the police shooting, the media reported there were guns found on the floor of the vehicle the victim fled from. The day after that the media reported: Pennsylvania law allows police officers to use deadly force to prevent someone from escaping arrest if that person has committed a forcible felony or possesses a deadly weapon.
That’s beyond manufacturing reasonable doubt, it’s manufacturing a defense.
And the following day the media reported, “Boy who died was unarmed, but had clip for handgun in pocket.”
(J. Pharaoh Doss is a contributor to the New Pittsburgh Courier.)
Follow @NewPghCourier on Twitter https://twitter.com/NewPghCourier